My end-of-summer vacation
I joined CoRHS Director Ann-Elizabeth Nash (my wife:)
and CoRHS Volunteer Jen O'Connor
on Grand Cayman, September 20 - 28, 2006
in assisting Fred Burton,
the International Reptile Conservation Foundation, and the
The day I arrived, a yearling iguana who was born wild in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park had been captured. He had been doing something very unusual: Hanging out with an adult female! We christened him GreenGreenPaleblue, or "GGP"
My first night in Cayman was spent learning about the procedure to intake an unknown iguana:
1) Insert a PIT tag (microchip) into the tail
2) Take a blood sample from the tail vein for DNA records
3) Install a color coded bead tag through the nuchal skin (they don't even flinch when pierced!)
4) Photograph both sides and the top of the head and neck (each animal has slighly different scalation - the photos create yet another way to identify the iguana)
5) Measure the Snout-to-Vent Length (SVL) and Tail length
6) Measure the weight
GGP was released the next morning, and was observed with his friend on subsequent occasions.
I spent my first full day at the Park observing a newly caught/processed/released hatchling named BOP - I learned just how difficult it is to spot a hatchling blue iguana, who spends most of his time up in the trees. There's an iggy in the middle of the photo below:
I'll zoom in for you:
Yes, that's BOP in what we call "Jackie Havana", or jacquemontia havanensis which the igs seem to love, both leaves and flowers. BOP would spend a few minutes gobbling down bites of leaves and whole flowers, then follow that with an hour long rest in the sun:
Also very interesting were BOP's excursions on the ground. If the sun was out, he would climb down to act like a real blue iguana, bobbing, strutting, nibbling tender young plants, and even eating adult iguana scat:
In short, for the first few days I got to pretend I was a field biologist, recording what BOP was doing every ten minutes or so:
The next phase of my efforts was to assist in capturing and re-processing the adult free-range iguanas in the Park. I used a net and my gloved hands to capture and hold the rather fiesty iguanas while Ann-Elizabeth or Jen drew blood (for DNA records). Several of the igs had their bead tags replaced. Length, weight, and PIT tag (microchip) were all recorded, and photos were taken of their heads.
Below is Me with WG also known as "Biter"; Here is Jen Measuring PPP also known as "Tootsie":
This already difficult task was compounded by the 100 degree temperatures, high humidity (for us Coloradoans!) and the fact that an upset iguana will likely defecate on you and try to bite, like BBB (Triple Blue):
This is me with Tootsie, the dominant male iguana in the Park. He controls a territory of about 30 acres! He was very heavy to hold like this, but he was very cooperative for his headshots, even though he was shedding like crazy:
Here's a younger female, RWP also known as "Rupert":
Someone I didn't see at all was YB (YellowBlue) who was injured by feral dogs earlier this year. After the dog attack, she went on to lay her eggs, which should be hatching any day now! Thank fully, Ann-Elizabeth caught YBon video:
We did take an afternoon to visit the Salina Reserve on the Northeast part of the island. Hiking was a challenge! No wonder a good pair of boots only lasts a couple of months on this stuff:
We were very lucky to spot a couple of free iguanas:
PGP on his retreat box:
And RYB catching a bit of sun:
I'm a sucker for posed shots. Here's Ann-Elizabeth, RYB,and Jen:
Those are "red birch" trees framing the photo - they are very helpful to grab, as they don't try to hurt you, unlike Maiden Plum, Manchineel, and Lady Hair. Notice the loose red soil - there were many iguana-tail drags through the dirt. They definitely mark their territories:
When we tried to walk by, we thought RYB would run and hide in her nearby retreat box. Instead, she approached us, reversed our roles, and observed us:
Go Team Blue!!
A couple of days later, back at the Park a hatchling iguanas finally emerged from a corralled nest! We missed seeing them emerge by only an hour or so:
Six beautiful babies (including one tiny runt!) were captured and processed while "Shy", a large female iguana(on left), watched over us:
This was especially rewarding, as these hatchlings were Sapphire's, a female who was killed in the feral dog attack earlier this year. Her legacy lives on with this clutch.
Iguanas weren't the only animal we spent time with on Grand Cayman.
There were lots of Blue-Throated Anoles:
Curly-Tailed Lizards and Cicadas:
Snakes (a natural predator of hatchling iguanas):
We actually captured many snakes, tagged them, released them, then attempted to recapture them a week later, to try to estimate the number of snakes in the park. There are a bunch!
And even Turtles (for The Shell's Angels!):
Oh, and lots of Parrots, which are quite loud in alerting everyone to your presence:
And I won't forget the adorable Hermit Crabs:
Not to mention all the beautiful plants and gardens in the Park which I didn't take pictures of :(
I highly recommend a trip to the "real" side of Grand Cayman to see what life was like before humans arrived, and to meet the most endangered iguana on the planet.
Save the Blues!